SIOUX CENTER—The Sioux Center School District is preparing for the new school year and all the challenges that await administrators and staff as they open their schools to students during a pandemic, including requiring older students and staff to wear masks.
The main tool the district will use to guide them through this is the Return to Learn policy, unanimously approved by the Sioux Center School District Board of Education during its July 21 meeting.
Return to Learn covers as many aspects of operating the school while trying to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus as possible.
Given the number of unknowns that can arise, district superintendent Gary McEldowney said this policy is going to be flexible and will adapt to any new situations that the district encounters.
“As I’ve said to my principals, I need their best. This has to be their A+ game,” he said.
The school board’s discussion regarding the Return to Learn policy lasted 2½ hours, with most of the discussion focusing on the issue of whether or not to require older students and school employees to wear masks when classes begin Thursday, Aug. 13.
While much of the back and forth debated the effectiveness of masks and if Sioux Center’s number of coronavirus cases warranted a mandate to wear them at school, in the end, it was decided to gauge faculty’s support for requiring them and students in grades five through 12 to wear masks.
Following the Tuesday meeting, McEldowney sent a survey to school faculty to measure their support, and a threshold was set to determine whether or not the requirement would go into effect.
Based on the results, McEldowney said a policy requiring students in grades five through 12 and all staff is being developed.
All school board members agreed to require masks for those using the school buses, including bus drivers.
The school board made this decision because the buses are used by the Sioux Center School District and Sioux Center Christian School, meaning there could be an opportunity for cases of the coronavirus to be spread from one school to the other.
The ability to social distance will be limited, especially in classrooms, so efforts are being made to make contact tracing as straightforward as possible.
To do this, younger grades will be kept in their homeroom groups so that even in a single grade, the classes interact with a minimum of their classmates.
“Then, if someone does test positive or some other situation, we can trace it to the point where maybe a class has to miss school, and it doesn’t have to necessarily be the entire grade,” McEldowney said.
Because of the mixing of grades that happen in many of the high school classes, this won’t be feasible at the high school level.
Efforts will also be made to keep students from gathering together before school starts.
“At Kinsey before school starts, they line the kids up and sit them on the floor at the hallways,” McEldowney said. “One of the big changes we’ll have to make is when kids come to school, they’re going to have to go right to their homerooms at 7:45 to stop the large groups as much as we can.”
Remote learning will be an option for medically high-risk students upon request, McEldowney said.
The district surveyed families on how things went when schools closed and online learning was offered.
“Nothing surprised us,” McEldowney said, of the results. “We knew there were things we didn’t do as well as we could have, should have. We did the best we could with what we thought we knew at the time. A lot of things people had concerns about and ideas to improve, we recognized that already and are already taking steps to remedy that.”
The district will utilize a new web platform called Seesaw for grades preschool through fifth grade, while middle schoolers will continue to utilize Summit Learning and Google Classroom, and high schoolers will use Canvas.
Each school building has different needs, and actions taken might look different at those buildings.
All the same, McEldowney was optimistic about the upcoming school year.
“We’re going to be way better,” he said. “We know now more of what we need to do to provide more.”
One of the big changes is that they can now require work to be done, even if remotely.